Sometimes sports bring out the best in humanity. But more often than bringing out our best, sports bring out the worst–or, simply, the crazy. 70s-era baseball might just take the cake for “most fanatical followers,” or could at least win award for “most likely to rage.” The following three vignettes demonstrate a penchant for mob mentality in the stadium, given the right circumstances.
The Cleveland Indians: Ten Cent Beer Night, 1974
Fans of any type in any location around the United States often lament the sky-high prices of stadium beer. The Indians may have secured spectators’ costly fate in the summer of 1974. Difficulties in filling seats led the franchise to offer promotions, and what better way than to discount beer? The program tried this tactic first in 1971, with “Nickel Beer Night.” Three years later, the powers-that-be planned another such night for a match-up at home between the Indians and the Rangers. One week prior, the two teams played each other in Texas and had a basebrawl over disputed calls. The combination of irate fans and cheap, unlimited beer was a recipe for disaster.
It all began in the first game at the bottom of the eighth when players got into a minor brawl over a tag-out. The brawl was broken up, but as the home players returned to the dugout, Ranger fans jeered and threw food and beer at the team. The game ended with a Ranger victory. A week passed before the next game, during which time Indians fans grew increasingly angry over continued talk about the animosity between the teams and the recent loss. When the second game rolled around, nearly 26,000 fans turned out for the event–twice the expected number given the previous game’s tally. Once again, the stadium offered unlimited ten cent beer, and the attendees took full advantage.
The Rangers took an easy lead while the crowd drank itself into a chaotic furor. Alcohol-fueled insanity and rage took over; a woman flashed the stadium from the Indians’ on-deck circle; a man streaked on the field during a home run; and a father-son duo mooned the spectators from the outfield. More and more fans took to the field and struck Ranger players with food, including one player who would later manage the Indians for two seasons in the 90s. After another disputed call, some spectators threw lit firecrackers in the Rangers’ dugout.
Everything came to a head when a 19-year-old fan took to the field and attempted to steal a Ranger’s cap. The player tripped and the Rangers’ coach ran to the outfield, believing the fan attacked his player. Indians fans rushed from their seats armed with knives, chains, and stadium seats they ripped from the bleachers. The Indians’ manager called his players to take up their bats and protect the Rangers by attacking their own fans. The two teams retreated as speedily as possible, protecting one another on the way off the field and out of the stadium. The riot continued as fans pulled up bases and threw everything in sight. Security guards could do little to reign in the mob of 26,000, especially when the Ump called the game, forfeiting it to the Rangers. The Cleveland Police eventually arrived and restored order. Only seven people were arrested.
For some reason unbeknownst to almost anyone of some intelligence, the stadium held another Ten-Cent-Beer-Night on July 18, only modifying the number of beers a person could purchase at once (2 instead of the previous 6), but still setting no limit on the total allowable amount per individual.
The White Sox: Disco Demolition Night, 1979
Baseball promotions in the 70s ended poorly, whether beer took part or not, it would seem. The Sox also suffered from poor attendance in the 70s, and decided to engage anti-disco man and radio DJ Steve Dahl to preside over the stadium broadcast during the July 12th doubleheader. As part of the promotion, fans were asked to bring a disco record and pay 98 cents to attend. Dahl would then set fire to the collected records on the field after the first game. Like the Indians organizers, the White Sox program expected considerably fewer attendees than actually came out for the event. The hoped-for number was 20,000. The actual number was somewhere around 50,000; the stadium had capacity for ~45K. At least 20,000 more stood outside the ballpark, with many climbing the gates to gain entry after the park stopped admittance.
Devoted rock music followers initiated the “anti-Disco” movement in the 70s, and this particular event may have spelled Disco’s end. As attendees crowded in, many deposited their records in the collection boxes, but gate check staff soon stopped taking them. As security manned the entries to prevent more individuals from entering, the uncollected records flew around the stadium and onto the field. In addition to the disco vinyl, fans tossed empty bottles, firecrackers, and lighters. Visiting team player Rusty Staub of the Tigers encouraged fellow teammates to wear their batting helmets while on the field. The game stopped and restarted several times due to projectile disruptions.
Profane anti-disco banners hung all around the stadium. Not content to miss out on the insanity, those who did not gain entry hung around outside the stadium throwing records and creating bonfires in which to burn them. People drank and smoked weed, contributing greatly to the wild atmosphere. The Tigers won the first game, and Dahl took to the field in a Jeep for a quick lap before setting fire to the records. The attendees covered the vehicle in a rain of firecrackers and beer as they chanted, “Disco sucks.” Many individuals tried to leave, scared of what might happen and what already had, but could hardly escape as the guards had left but one gate unlocked to prevent any further entries. The spectators abandoned all reservations once Dahl blew the records to high heaven, leaving a large hole in the grass.
Thousands rushed the field, destroying the batting cage, literally stealing bases, ripping the grass, and climbing foul poles. A bonfire burned in the center of the field while program managers begged spectators to leave the field. The crowd finally dispersed when the Chicago policed arrived in their riot gear. They arrested 39 people. The field was a disaster, unfit for a second game, and the Tigers, understandably, did not feel assured of their safety. Somehow the Sox managers thought they could simply reschedule for tomorrow, while the Tigers managers called for a forfeit. The Sox forfeited the game the next day by order of the American League. Mike Veeck, one of the event’s promoters for the Sox, held a similar (but much less violent) event for the Charleston RiverDogs in 2014, where Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus records were destroyed.
The Washington Senator’s: The Final Game, 1971
Known today as the Texas Rangers (the same team that would cause Indians fans to riot in 1974), the Washington Senators went out with a bang on the occasion of their final game as the “Senators” on September 30th, 1971. Then-owner Bob Short made an ultimatum at the end of the previous season: unless someone ponied up $12 million to buy the team from him, he would move the team. No one came up with staggering amount asked, but many made alternative offers. Eventually, Short and the other team shareholders decided to hand the team over to the mayor of Arlington, Texas, meaning the team would move to the buyer’s state for the 1972 season. Fans were subsequently outraged.
A shorter story than the two previous, but similar in many respects, the attendance of the Senators final game–a match-up against the Yankees–far exceeded expectations. Around 25,000 fans turned up for the event, only 15,000 of whom paid for their tickets. This was largely due to the fact that the security guards left the game early. Distraught that their team would no longer exist beyond this game, the fans rushed the field at the top of the ninth when the Senators led 7-5 with two outs. Chaos ensued, with fans refusing to leave and stealing bases. What might have been a final winning game turned into a loss, as the game came to a halt and the Senators forfeited to the Yankees.